Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan said here on Tuesday that India had forfeited its sovereign right to control imports into the country by signing free trade agreement with ASEAN countries. The Central Government had signed the agreement without proper democratic consultations.
In an article released for publication prior to 'human chain' being organised by the CPI(M) on October 2 in protest against the agreement, the Chief Minister said loss of country's sovereign rights to control
imports was the most serious issue regarding the agreement. It was important that the country retained the right to protect farmers and farming by controlling imports at times of crisis.
Mr. Achuthanandan noted that he was not arguing that imports should be totally eliminated or that high tariff barriers should be maintained against all goods at all times. “What is essential is the freedom to impose higher tariffs when prices fall haphazardly under increased threat from imports.”
The country would realise the full impact of the loss of power to check imports only when the prices fall in the international market.
Then there would be an outcry for saving the farmers by raising the barriers. But the country would have no option to do so.
He observed that the country had lost the right to raise tariff and non-tariff barriers against import of tea, coffee, pepper, rubber, rubber products and fish products which are key to Kerala's economy.
The power to check import of palmolein to save coconut farming had also been lost. Though rubber had been included in the exclusion list, the highest import duty that can be imposed on the commodity had been
fixed as 20 per cent. In the case of synthetic rubber and rubber products, import duty was to be eliminated in three to four years.
The Chief Minister said that the Union Government had not considered the issues seriously before signing the agreement. Neither the Parliament nor the States were kept informed. Though the basic agreement was drafted in 2003, even the Congress-led UDF government, which was in power in Kerala at that time, had not been consulted.
However, the call to join the human chain might not be acceptable to the UDF. So, the government was thinking of offering a common platform so that all could raise their voices against the agreement,
irrespective of their political affiliations.
He added that it would be suicidal for Kerala to allow the continuation of the processes related to the agreement. “We should be able to propose measures to address the concerns of farmers, farm workers and fishermen and ensure their acceptance.”